18 aircraft of Jagdführer South made an emergency take-off against an Italian-based enemy attack on Valence … 8 of our aircraft were destroyed and 20 severely damaged on the ground at Valence and St. Martin de Crau.
Two pairs of Bf 109s reconnoitred guerrilla territory but JGr. 200’s main action ensued when 15th Air Force heavy bombers attacked Luftwaffe airfields at Valence/La Trésorerie and St. Martin de Crau/Les Chanoines, the bases respectively of KG 26 and 1.(F)/33. No fighter opposition was encountered over the former but at midday (local time) over St. Martin the raiders (from 454th and 459th BGs, escorted by 325th FG) were met by 14 Bf 109s. An estimated three aggressive German fighters attacked stragglers between Toulon and the target while the main group “made aggressive double passes just prior to IP, from 12 o’ clock high and 6 o’ clock level."
According to No. 276 Wing RAF (Signals Intelligence) which listened in on the action, “3 bomber casualties were reported with 2 enemy fighters damaged.” Initial German claims were for three B-24s shot down and two shot out of formation, plus a B-24 and a P-51 damaged; finally accredited were:
The 459th BG lost three Liberators on this mission, one to Flak and two to enemy aircraft. The fall of a B-24 of the 759th BS at 11.56 hrs. is described by Sgt. Ira Mayfield:
“On 24 July 1944 while on a combat mission to Les Chanoines, France Lt. Jerman who was flying B-24J, 42-50870, was attacked by enemy fighters. It looked like he was hit on the right wing between number three and four engine. Number four caught on fire. The plane peeled off and left the formation. As it went into a glide toward the water, six parachutes left the airplane. The plane hit the water and exploded. I believe that the Aileron controls were shot out.”
Eleven minutes later, the Bf 109s destroyed a B-24H of the 757th BS. Staff Sergeant George Siedman reported:
“The B-24 Liberator in question was attacked by fighters about ten minutes before the IP. The B-24 went down and two chutes were observed. The airplane fell in flames and exploded before hitting the water. I would say that due to the intense heat of the flames the Frag Bombs exploded. I never did see the airplane salvo its bombs. After it exploded the airplane scattered over the water and dispersed greatly. The fighters circled about the two chutes going down but I could no longer see them after that.”
Remarkably, eight of this crew survived and were interned in Spain; they were released by November 1944. At 12.08 hours, 1/Lt. John Kalie’s B-24H was hit in the bomb bay by a Flak shell, falling out of control and in flames. Staff Sergeant Robert C. Gaylor:
“We had been attacked shortly before by some fighters and I thought that perhaps this was the reason for him salvoing his bombs …As we came off target we ran into very heavy and extremely accurate Flak. One burst hit directly in front of the ball turret of Lieutenant Kalie’s aircraft, and immediately after flames started spurting from his bomb bay …”
This appears to correspond with a claim by Flak-Abteilung 346 (if the following intercepted message was not standardised to GMT in the usual way):
"12.08, Istres, one Liberator shot down by 1.–4./346. Crashed at CK37, four men bailed out. None of our own fighters were involved."
Kalie's B-24 came down at Fos-sur-Mer (within Grid Square CK) at 12.08 local time and three of its crew were taken prisoner (one of them being hospitalised).
The bomber gunners claimed 3-2-1 Messerschmitts and 1/Lt. Wayne L. Lowry of the 317th FS (who would end the war with 11 victories) shot down a Bf 109 north west of the Étang de Berre. In fact JGr. 200 lost two Bf 109s in air combat (with both pilots safe) and had two more which were severely damaged on the ground by bomb splinters and looked like being write-offs. The two machines shot down were: Bf 109 G-6 W.Nr. 163227 of 1./JGr. 200 and W.Nr. 441321, white 4 (its loss however was attributed to the 3. Staffel, so it may have been flown by a pilot of that unit). The Allies found white 4 dismantled at Salon railway station and concluded from sand and salt water corrosion that it had force landed on the seashore. Both the bomb-damaged aircraft belonged to 2./JGr. 200: Bf 109 G-6 W.Nr. 162344 and G-6/U4 W.Nr. 162221 and their wreckage was later examined at Valence-La Trésorerie by an Allied Field Intelligence Unit. Each had a spiral marking on its spinner but in neither case could fuselage markings be determined..
Luftwaffe authorities issued successive reports on the bomb damage, each amplifying (or sometimes contradicting) the last. The one that seems most complete gave 2 Ju 88s destroyed at St. Martin plus 5 Ju 88s, 3 Ju 188s and 3 Me 410s damaged 50% or less in the dspersals. Four men of 1.(F)/33 had been injured, one of them seriously.
At Valence two people were killed; from the technical personnel of II./KG26 five were seriously wounded and six slightly. From the staff of 2. Fliegerdivision, Maj. Martin had slight wounds and Oblt. Haude was severely injured. One Ju 88 was total loss; a Bf 108 and a Fi 156 were heavily damaged; and 15 Ju 88s had splinter damage despite being in blast bays. An earlier report had indicated that 2 Reggiane 2002s had been wrecked as well. Luftflotte 3 gave a total of 24 machines destroyed or damaged
JGr. 200 ended the day with 19 (10) aircraft and 26 (19) crews.
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